Sunday, March 9, 2008

Agent Butterfly

About two weeks after I graduated from high school, my family moved from Anchorage, Alaska, where we had lived for four years, to the Washington, D.C. area. Needless to say, this uprooting was a little bit traumatic. Now, I'd been moving all my life. My dad joined the Air Force in September of 1979, when I was a bit over 15 months old. (Something about trying to support a wife & two kids on a rural high school band director's salary. With no health insurance.) We'd moved hither and yon as I was growing up, packing and unpacking, numerous first-day-at-a-new-school's, and discussions on who got the better bedroom in this particular house.

Moving right after you graduate from high school and are headed for college in the fall means a very boring summer. Very. Boring. I helped my parents unpack, of course, and I got my college stuff ready. I did some babysitting. I didn't have a car (or a driver's license, for that matter), so getting a job wasn't really an option. The church had no people my age, not even a youth group to speak of, so that typical fallback for fellowship wasn't there. I was very ready to go to college when the time came, since I was going to be reunited with several of my friends.

I determined that the next summer would be different. No way was I going to spend the entire summer moping around the house, missing my friends and my dorm room. I was going to get a job of some sort. I didn't much care what it was, as long as it got me out of the house and got me a reasonable paycheck. We found out through a wonderful man at church (who was also in the Air Force) that there was a summer intership kind of program at the Pentagon. My dad was working at the Pentagon, too, so transportation wasn't an issue. It sounded interesting, much more so than flipping burgers, so we looked into it.

First of all, let me say that the Pentagon is big. Really, really big. Huge, even. On an average weekday, about 23,000 employees fill the 17.5 miles of corridors. (And the interesting thing? Once you figure out how to read a Pentagon office address, you can easily walk between any two points in less than ten minutes. That's good design, people.) The lowest floor had, at the time I worked there, a barber shop, a Rite-Aid, a Bank of America, a DMV, a Post Office, a couple of gift/clothing stores, and the entrance to the DC Metro system. The Pentagon also has a full-service cafeteria, many snack bars, and, my favorite, a little open-air snack bar in the courtyard in the middle of the building. One of my favorite things about working there was having lunch with my Dad about once a week in the courtyard.

What did I do in the Pentagon? I worked for the Air Force Colonel's Group, or AFCOMO. (The military LOVES to make acronyms for things.) The Colonel's Group was responsible for meeting the needs of the O-6 rank, and the head of the Colonel's Group was that nice man from church, who told us about the internship program. As a group, they organized training and assignments, and general career management for all of the Colonels and Colonels-select. (Colonel-select: a Lieutenant Colonel who has been put on the list for promotion but hasn't yet been promoted.) My main tasks for the two summers I was part of the Colonel's Group were to answer the phone, put together assignment order messages, and whatever else they needed me to do.

Much of the time, however, they just didn't have anything for me to do. A lot of the stuff was considered "sensitive," and since I didn't have clearance, I couldn't help. That led to a lot of internet surfing. I found a chatroom I visited fairly regularly that was filled with other bored office workers throughout the US and Canada. My avatar for this chatroom was a butterfly, and since I worked for the government, I was "Agent Butterfly." Pretty silly, I know. (Incidentally, I also made a great e-friend in that chat room, and 11 years later, we still correspond! Hi, Glenda! :-D)

And so that's the story of working in the Pentagon. It wasn't terribly exciting, it paid very well, and it gave me something to do in the summer. I learned a lot of military lingo, how to answer the phone professionally, and how to take notes like mad while on the phone - I have a bad short-term memory, especially for names. The most exciting thing that happened in my two summers of working there was that I got lost and ended up in one of those war room kind of things like you see in movies - dark, computer monitors sunken into a big round table, big chairs all around, phones and dark glass panels and an air of secrecy.

My brother worked at the Pentagon for one summer, in a different office, and he was wasting time one day when the Secretary of Defense walked in. That'll get your attention. I think he even minimized Solitaire.


Nichole said...

That's a very cool story! Alex's grandfather worked at the Pentagon in the early '60s.

Queen B said...

Very cool!

carrie said...

Very neat! That is a great story to pass on to Wendy. None of my summer jobs were that good nor did they pay that well!